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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

 
Supporting the Troops

by David Atkins

There's a great article in the Financial Times today about illegal foreclosures on military families. Essentially, banks were foreclosing on families of active duty troops. That's against the law, and it carries criminal penalties. As in, jail time for those involved.

In the United States, that cannot be allowed to be happen to the "producers." Jail time is reserved for protesters and little people. Here's Dylan Ratigan:

Foreclosures on active duty troops is usually a big no-no, for a lot of reasons – for instance, when your credit rating is damaged by a foreclosure, it can impact your national security clearance. In addition, there’s enormous stress that the soldier goes through when his or her family is facing a threat of eviction, and it’s the kind of stress that makes him or her less equipped to be ready in a warzone. Congressman Bob Filner has even accused banks of “homicide” against American troops, blaming the banks for suicides resulting from the increased stress brought on by aggressive debt collection techniques.


So why is nothing happening?

Much has been made of President Obama’s argument that the banks did nothing illegally, and various other scholars and officials have argued that prosecuting the banks is far too expensive and difficult. Yet, the SCRA is a simple law with teeth; it carries real jail time, and the parties have already confessed to the crime. Here’s Section 303(d)(1) of that law, which spells out penalties. (PDF)

(1) MISDEMEANOR.—A person who knowingly makes or causes to be made a sale, foreclosure, or seizure of property that is prohibited by subsection (c), or who knowingly attempts to do so, shall be fined as provided in title 18, United States Code, or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.

Interestingly, the Department of Justice seems to agree with this interpretation. Here’s a press release from the Department of Justice on a settlement of some of these claims, from Bank of America. I’ve bolded the important part.

The Justice Department announced today that, as part of its settlement with BAC Home Loans Servicing LP, a subsidiary of Bank of America Corporation, servicemembers whose homes were unlawfully foreclosed upon will each receive a minimum $116,785 plus compensation for any equity lost to compensate them for the bank’s alleged violation of the Servicemember Civil Relief Act (SCRA).

Note the use of the word “alleged.” Bank of America isn’t admitting anything, and the Eric Holder’s Department of Justice isn’t making them admit anything. Otherwise, the penalties might come into play. Sometimes, law can get very complex. But sometimes, it isn’t. JP Morgan admitted to violating the law. There are up to 5000 more cases, and each one carries up to a year in jail.

Eric Holder and various US Attorneys around the country aren’t prosecuting bank foreclosures on active duty troops, even though they know it is happening. Bank regulators know about the problem. Congress knows about the problem. Certainly, the Pentagon knows about the problem.


But once again, New York AG Eric Schneiderman is stepping up to the plate. Per Dave Dayen:

It looks like even Congress is getting involved, or at least a few of them, because systematic illegal foreclosures on everyday people can be ignored, but systematic foreclosures on members of the military cannot. Jack Reed, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, will request a hearing on the matter. Brad Miller, who has actually been great on this issue and who sees it as a lever to open up a host of inquiries on foreclosure fraud, had a great statement yesterday:

It is hard to see this as anything except a flagrant disregard for a law that has been on the books continuously since the First World War. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act is very clear: if you’re in harm’s way in our nation’s military, you can devote your whole energy to our nation’s service without worrying what’s happening in a courthouse back home. And if you have a claim against someone in our military, you can wait until they get home and can defend themselves.

The SCRA is not some obscure legal technicality that might just have escaped the attention of mortgage servicers. Those servicers are all affiliates of the biggest banks, but they’re huge and specialized. Servicing mortgages is all they do, and they really don’t have that many laws to keep up with. They have got to have known what the law required, and consciously decided that they could just ignore it, the same way they apparently decided it was okay to file false affidavits in legal proceedings.

The continued failure to pursue criminal charges in the face of flagrant violations of the criminal law is destroying Americans’ faith in their government and democracy. In a democracy, no one is too big to prosecute.


Absolutely. And when Eric Holder won’t, Eric Schneiderman is at least willing to give it a try.


The only thing the U.S. government throws banksters in jail for these days is ripping off Goldman Sachs. Rip off Goldman Sachs, you spend a decade in jail.

But systematically violating the law by screwing over active duty troops? No problem.


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